Identity theft is the most common type of fraud, and college students are especially vulnerable. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), people aged 20 to 29 are among the most frequent victims and accounted for 18 percent of complaints in 2014.

Identity theft hits college students harder than many older age groups because younger people not be aware of how it can affect them far into the future—from being hounded by a debt collector for a debt that you did not incur; to being unable to access your own credit cards or bank account; to being arrested for crimes committed by people who have stolen your identity; to not receiving proper medical care because an identity thief stole access to your medical insurance. Identity theft can also ruin your credit rating, which can affect your ability to rent an apartment, get a loan, apply for a job, or buy insurance. 

Where ID Theft Is Most Likely To Occur

College students become fraud targets for two reasons: They live in close quarters and they do not take enough precautions. Here is where they’re most vulnerable—and how they can protect themselves. 

Don’t trust the dorm room: Your dorm room is your home away from home, so it’s natural to feel relaxed and let your guard down. However, dorm rooms are notoriously open to many people, some of whom have no qualms about rifling your papers for personal information such as bank account numbers, credit card numbers or Social Security numbers.

Leave your important documents, such as your Social Security card and birth certificate, with your parents. If you must bring them with you, store them in a secure, locked space. Carry only physical copies of ID that you actually need, such as your driver’s license or student ID.

Secure your electronic devices: Students share their smartphones, laptops and tablets as readily as a sip of soy latte, making it easy for someone to swipe your secrets.

Encrypt all data on your devices and don’t store personal information on your laptop or smartphone. Keep all of your electronic devices locked when not in use.

Beware of over-sharing on social media: There’s no way to tell if your new Facebook friend is really a buddy or a baddie sending you a link that will download malware into your computer, smartphone or tablet.

Don’t click a link, no matter how tempting it seems, unless you know who sent it to you. Adjust the privacy settings to make it more difficult for people you don’t know to view your information or post material on your pages.

Limit use of public WiFi: College campuses are peppered with public hotspots, which data thieves use to steal personal information.

Never shop, check your bank balance or log in to your credit accounts while on a public connection.

Strengthen your passwords: Students can be careless with their passwords, using the same one for every device and account. Or they may use the name of a pet, which they’ve publicized on Facebook, or their mother’s maiden name, which might show up on other personal profiles.

Scrub those data points from your social media profile. Customize your password for each account and make them a combination of small letters, capital letters and symbols and numbers.

Ignore credit card offers: Students are regularly inundated with invitations to complete a pre-approved credit card application, either by mail or at campus events. Yet filling in your name, Social Security Number, date of birth and driver’s license number in public is just opening the door to ID theft.

Don’t sign up at a table or booth on campus; instead, go to the company’s secure website from your private, password-protected Internet connection. Shred mailed solicitations, which someone could fill out in your name. Take yourself off marketing lists for pre-approved credit cards at www.optoutprescreen.com

Students who want to avoid identity theft should brush up on their Shakespeare. As he wrote in Othello, “Who steals my purse steals trash…but he that filches from me my good name … makes me poor indeed.”